A school district split over whether to close an elementary school. That’s what’s happening in St. Marys right now where the district and community are torn.
Douglas Braff talked with the Superintendent and the organizers opposing the move.
It’s not an easy decision to close a school. Especially when Bennetts Valley Elementary has a special place for those in the community.
St. Marys Area School District Superintendent Doctor Harley Ramsey tells me there’s been talk of shutting down Bennetts Valley Elementary for decades now.
He says this time it comes at a financially difficult period for the district which he says needs to stabilize its finances. And he thinks closing the small elementary school would help.
However if we’re judging by the road signs a vocal part of the community opposes closing the school. Leaders of save our school tell me this is also about saving their community.
“First and foremost is, we’re not trying to balance the budget strictly on the backs of the Bennetts Valley folks. That said, we have to look at all of our options.”
“We’ve had meetings and trying to persuade the school district not to close it, but it’s a financial issue to them. It’s more than a financial issue to us because it’s the heart and soul of our community.”
While the St. Marys Area School District Superintendent tells me this proposal would be a major step toward financial stability those leading the opposition say this would be at the cost of a tight knit community.
“I’ve been in this area for 150 years my family has. And I graduated from Bennetts Valley here and now it’s an elementary school.”
“They tried to close it once before and we stopped them. Hopefully we can stop them again.”
But this time around Superintendent Dr. Harley Ramsey says like many schools nationwide they’ve hit hard times financially.
“So, each year, depending on tax increases and state and federal funding sources, we could be losing anywhere between a half million and 3 million a year. So, we’re really looking at different options to be, again, fiscally responsible.”
However some don’t see this as a financial issue.
“My main arguments is the education of our children is number one, the safety issues, definitely. And there are safety issues.
Save Our School Organization
“One of the biggest factors that we have concerns over is the safety for our children, riding the bus and getting off in a highly congested area in front of the Fox Township Elementary School. I contacted Fox Township supervisors to do a traffic safety study. They had to call PENNDOT to get it authorized. PENNDOT declined — why, I have no idea, but there is park cars parked along the road during dismissal. It’s quite dangerous.”
Ramsey tells me that personnel is one of their highest expenditures.